Tis the day before Free Agency, and all through the house, not a creature could wait, not even a mouse.
Labored intros aside, free agency has become something of a holiday in the NFL calendar. A day where players get to find out if they’ve been naughty or nice, when teams put money in front of them in return for their signature.
As we’ve done for the past two free agencies we’ll be launching our Live Blog tomorrow to react to all the developing news, but today we’re launching our Free Agency Countdown Blog. There’s a lot of speculation out there and we’re going to build on it with some intelligent analysis.
So keep checking back every 15 minutes or so, follow us on Twitter while if you want to see what’s out there check out our Free Agent Tracker, and if you want even more detail then you really need to get yourself a PFF Premium Subscription.
Let the games begin!
13.00: You ready for the main thing? We’re switching from our Countdown Blog to our Official 2013 Free Agency Day One Blog. Come join us.
12.45: POSSIBLE SIGNING! Big news for the Falcons who have managed to talk Tony Gonzalez into returning for another year, pending the agreement of a contract per Jay Glazer. It’s obviously huge news for Atlanta who earned the highest grade of all tight ends in coverage and turned 53.7% of his targets into first downs or touchdowns (fifth highest number in the entire league).
12.30: RUMOR! From the Denver Post the Broncos are reportedly interested in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Terrance Knighton. Two interesting players with both guys long on talent, but shy on consistent production that is bound to scare off a lot of teams. With regards to “DRC” he (despite showing promise this year in Philadelphia) has never built on his breakout 2009 campaign and all too often looked disinterested with what is going on. Similarly Knighton, who played for Jack Del Rio when the Broncos defensive coordinator was Head Coach in Jacksonville, has flashed talent since entering the league and even earned a +4.2 grade for his work last year. But he lost his starting spot after the teams bye week with the emergence of C.J. Mosley putting him in the shade.
12.15: RUMOR! Albert Breer has informed has Chris Canty is visiting with the Ravens with offers from the Chiefs and Titans waiting for him. No real surprise that Canty has found such a strong market. When he got on the field for the Giants he was a real difference maker, turning his 300 snaps into a +6.6 grade, with his work rushing the passer being particularly impressive. His versatility (he played as defensive end in the Cowboys 3-4 defense before joining the Giants) adds additional appeal.
12.10: RUMOR! Another one from Adam Schefter who is mentioning that the Eagles are one of the teams looking at Jake Long. What does that say about the future of Jason Peters and his $11m cap hit next year in Philadelphia? Peters was our top ranked tackle in 2011, while Long was top two in both 2009 and 2010, but both men have some massive question marks regarding their health. Long only finished 46th in our offensive tackle rankings last year (out of 80) and there’s a worry he’ll never regain the form he showed in his early years in the league.
11.50: RELEASED! Ian Rapoport reports that Antonio Garay is saying his goodbyes in San Diego and taking his funky haircut with him as a release is impending. Since his breakout 2010 season where Garay turned his 466 snaps into the second highest grade of any defensive tackle we graded, he’s struggled to replicate that. While still earning positive grades for his pass rushing in both 2011 and 2012 injuries limited him to 151 snaps last year, and at 33 years old that is bound to scare plenty of teams. Still teams needing some interior push in their sub package defense would be wise to run the rule over Garay.
11.45: WORKOUT! After being released by the Dallas Cowboys, Dan Connor is heading to Pittsburgh to see if he can fill the void left by the impending departure of Larry Foote. Connor impressed us during his time in Carolina with his willingness to take lead blockers on and re-direct runners. That made him an ideal kind of guy to feature on early downs, but he didn’t have the same kind of success moving to Dallas and their 3-4 defense which worries you about how he’d fit in with Pittsburgh.
11.30: RELEASED! A new regime in San Diego and they’re having themselves a little clear up. That includes Randy McMichael who, because there tackle situation was so bad last year, led all tight ends (on the field for at least 100 passing plays) by being left in to block on 56% of snaps. Can we infer from this that San Diego is expecting better play from their tackles? The 2002 fourth round pick has morphed into a blocking tight end since his early career.
11.15! RELEASED! More from that guy Adam Schefter who informed us all that the big bodied Sione Pouha is done with the Jets. This is a blow for the Jets but given his cap hit ($6.2m) it makes an awful lot of sense for a team that isn’t built to win now. After emerging from the substantial shadow of Kris Jenkins Pouha developed into arguably the finest zero technique defensive lineman in the league, with the added ability to line up further down the line. He was graded as our top run stuffing defensive tackle in 2009, and finished in the top five in both 2010 and 2011 before injury blighted his 2012. He’ll be an excellent pick up (presuming he’s healthy) for any team short on size and talent up front (hello Indianapolis).
11.00! RELEASED! Adam Schefter is likely to be a busy boy today, and part of that is telling us that the Panthers are releasing James Anderson. Back after the 2010 season Anderson got himself a healthy deal after a year where he finished third overall in our 4-3 outside linebacker rankings. Unfortunately he couldn’t replicate that either of the past two years, while the Panthers depth at linebacker meant he was expendable and then some. He should find some love on the open market with linebacker being a spot short on top end quality.
10.30: RUMOR! That isn’t the only possible case of some inter-divisional movement. As Aaron Wilson, who has been very busy these past two days, notes the Browns appear to be the favorites to land Paul Kruger. The Raven raised his stock with his postseason play but it should be noted that he failed to deliver in an every down role when the Ravens really needed him without Terrell Suggs on the field. Is he going to be worth the big money he commands? Or this a case of letting a positional need force you into making a deal that will hurt you down the line.
10.00: RUMOR! There’s nothing better than pinching someone from a divisional rival right? Well as Tom Pelissero mentions that could be happening in Chicago, where the Bears are taking a good long look at Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt. The mammoth lineman finished as our 8th ranked right tackle last year on the back of some dominant line blocking with the Vikings averaging a ridiculous 8.6 yards per carry on all runs outside right tackle. That’s one way to add a spark to a running game in desperate need of one.
09.30: RUMOR! Courtesy of Jason La Canfora, the Cardinals are the clubhouse leaders in pursuit of Larry Foote. Does this surprise anyone? The Cardinals long tradition of going after former Steelers isn’t stopping with their new Head Coach one himself. Foote replaced James Farrior in the Steelers starting lineup last year and played well enough to earn a -11.9 grade on the year, good for 46th out of 53 qualifying linebackers. With Paris Lenon finishing 52nd, it’s scary to think he offers the potential for an upgrade.
09.00: SIGNING! Another one of those deals that isn’t too much of a surprise, with the Packers tendering Sam Shields at the second round level. Given how teams covet talented cornerbacks you can bet teams will at least consider making a run at Shields, especially if they miss out on a relatively deep free agent class. Shields finished the season with our eighth highest grade of all cornerbacks in coverage, allowing just 21 receptions for 355 yards, while also seeing only 4.1% of his coverage snaps end up seeing him give up a first down or touchdown (third lowest number in the league).
03:50: SIGNING! With the Steelers’ top three running backs all facing some form of free agency, Jonathan Dwyer signed his tender on Monday evening to ensure that he’ll be back in Pittsburgh for a fourth season. He saw his first extended action in 2012, including back-to-back 100+ yard games in Weeks 7 and 8, but his play tapered off as the season wore on. Still, his 623 yards on 156 carries are solid numbers for a backup. Even with Dwyer’s re-signing, the Steelers still have a lot more work to do at the running back position this offseason.
22:25: RETIREMENT! Jay Glazer is reporting that Steve Hutchinson will be announcing his retirement tomorrow. The five time first team All Pro spent most of his career with the Seahawks and Vikings before spending his last season with the Tennessee Titans. By PFF standards, he had a positive PFF Overall Rating in his last four years with the Vikings including two seasons as a top five left guard. Heavily coveted free agent guard Andy Levitre could be Hutchinson’s replacement if Tennessee is willing to pay the price. We wish Hutchinson the best of luck in his life after football.
22.00: If you want to take part in our 2013 Free Agent Competition for a chance to win a subscription to Pro Football Focus, you have just two hours left to submit your picks!
21.50: RUMOR! Once Eric Winston was released by the Chiefs he joined a crowded right tackle free agent market. He currently has an edge on the market since he can meet with other teams, and according to Adam Schefter, Winston spent part of his weekend visiting the San Diego Chargers. Keeping the pressure off Rivers needs to be a high priority — Rivers had a +17.0 PFF Pass Rating when not under pressure, and a -17.7 PFF Pass Rating when pressured. However, both Winston and Chargers incumbent right tackle Jeromey Clary have played right tackle over the last several years, and the bigger need is on the left if Jared Gaither can’t stay healthy.
21.40: SIGNING! We inch closer and closer to free agency which gives teams a little bit more time to bring back their own men before they hit the open market. In this case, the Arizona Cardinals re-signed safety Rashad Johnson to a three-year deal. In 2012 he was a backup, playing limited snaps in multiple games. On the bright side he had two interceptions on just six targets, but he also missed three tackles on his 166 snaps. The Cardinals have only five defensive backs on the roster, so until other competition is brought in, Johnson is slated to be a starter at safety next to Kerry Rhodes.
21.10: RUMOR! Once the Seahawks acquired Percy Harvin via trade from the Vikings, the talk on twitter was which of the Seattle Wide Receivers would be the odd man out. Early indications is that backup halfback Leon Washington might be the first to go if the Seahawks can find a trade partner. Washington had 29.0 yards per kick return which was the fourth highest for players with at least 10 kick returns. The player who led the league, though, was Harvin at 35.9. From 2011 to 2012 Washington saw his role in the offense decline from 158 snaps to 73, so at his age and price he is now expendable.
20.45: RUMOR! The Redskins are reportedly going to make a run at cornerback Aqib Talib according to the USA Today. In a lot of ways this makes sense with the general manager and secondary coaches of the Redskins were Talib’s general manager and head coach back in his Tampa Bay days. With the earlier release of DeAngelo Hall as well as the unrestricted free agent status of Cedric Griffin, Washington is very thin at cornerback. While Talib would be an upgrade over Hall, the only problem is money — the Redskins don’t have much to spare at the moment.
19.45: RUMOR! Stay tuned for more on this tomorrow. It appears likely that the Broncos are either going to have to cut Elvis Dumervil or pay him full whack on what he is due. The one-dimensional defense end earned the title of most overvalued edge rusher in our recent Performance Based Value series, and it appears the Broncos agree somewhat. Sure he brings some pass rush and has a knack for finishing plays off, but is he really worth it when you consider the lack of consistent pass rush he brings as well as his poor work in the run game? Time will tell.
19.15: SIGNING! This could get interesting. We assumed the Ravens would turn to Denis Pitta more with Anquan Boldin out of the picture, but by placing only a second round tender on him are they leaving themselves open to lose one of the most trusted targets left on the roster? Outside of filling in when Ed Dickson went down, Pitta spent most of last year as a No. 2 tight end in the Ravens’ 21 and 12 personnel, while coming onto the field in more obvious passing situations, with three other receivers in play. He ended up having 1.69 Yards Per Route Run, the seventh-most of all tight ends and more than guys like Dustin Keller and Jared Cook managed.
19.00: RUMOR! This time it’s news from Albert Breer of the NFL Network who reports that Ed Reed could be the guy the 49ers are lining up to replace the seemingly bound to depart Dashon Goldson. Before William Moore was taken off the market, Goldson was our No. 2-ranked safety with Reed in at No. 4, though it’s easy to see why many believe Reed is but a shadow of his former self. Teams are no longer fearful throwing it in his direction, while he missed a tackle for every 6.1 he attempted. Only eight starting safeties had a worse rate.
18.45: SIGNING! Interesting news from Tom Silverstein, who reports the Packers have tendered possible starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith the lowest possible tender meaning he can leave for nothing if a team comes in with an offer. The 2009 undrafted free agent replaced Jeff Saturday in Week 11 and ended up playing 603 snaps (including the playoffs) after also spending some time at guard. He had some problems in pass protection and had a nightmare game against the Vikings in the playoffs (where Fred Evans in particular humbled him), but we’d echo the thoughts of Silverstein that it represents a risky move for the Packers. Unless, of course, they’re looking to upgrade at the position in the draft. At this stage that’s anyone’s guess.
18.30: SIGNING! Not a massive surprise this one, with news that the Ravens have tendered Arthur Jones coming from Aaron Wilson. Jones was involved on 536 regular season snaps, but it was his play in the postseason that means people know him as more than the “brother of Jon and Chandler”. In the Super Bowl (where he earned a +1.9 grade) he stood out with a sack, hurry, fumble recovery, and defensive stop. Not bad work.
18.15: RUMOR! It’s relatively quiet at the moment but on the heels of Beanie Wells being released and the Cardinals not making La’Rod Stephens-Howling feel wanted with their contract offer, Ian Rapoport is reporting they have some significant interest in Reggie Bush. Could this be exactly what Bush needs? With Bruce Arians a pass-happy coach, it could get Bush into situations that better exploit his skill set, instead of him struggling to work his way through crowded boxes (he averaged just 2.1 yards after contact per carry, sixth-lowest of all running backs with at least 100 carries).
18.00: RUMOR! Jason La Canfora is reporting the Lions interest in Jason Jones. Not a huge shocker given that Schwartz was on the Titans staff when Jones was drafted, but it’s interesting to see if Jones himself will find the situation to his liking. Sure he’s a good fit in that defense, but with Detroit owning two of the most destructive defensive tackles in football, Jones is never going to be more than a guy that spells Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. After seeing how his one-year deal in Seattle didn’t really work out, might he want a more prominent role as a starter?
17.40: SIGNING! Is that the sound of Mark Sanchez being put on notice? Nope it’s new, from the Jets themselves, that they’ve signed 35-year old David Garrard to provide some competition for a quarterback who finished 37th (out of 38 qualifying quarterbacks) in our rankings. Garrard, to his credit, has proved a serviceable quarterback in his time with Jacksonville but he hasn’t seen a snap of regular season action since 2010 where he ended up our 14th-ranked quarterback. The sad thing for Sanchez supporters is that even that gap isn’t enough to make you think he wouldn’t represent a better option.
17.30: RUMOR! This one comes from Jason Cole over at Yahoo Sports who mentions the Patriots, Raiders, 49ers, Eagles, Seahawks and Jaguars as all showing some decent interest in free agent to be Desmond Bryant. It’s not hard to see why with Bryant showing his versatility the past two years, coping in 2011 when asked to play defensive end, and then having no problems in 2012 returning to his defensive tackle spot. He finished sixth overall in our rankings and it’s no surprise to see three teams in there that are capable of switching between 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts.
17.15: RELEASED! That ominous red logo is making another appearance, because, courtesy of Ian Rapoport, the Broncos have said their goodbyes to the overpaid D.J. Williams. After missing most of the 2012 season suspended, Williams returned in Week 11 and played 162 snaps as part of the Broncos sub package defense. He was far from terrible but never really made the kind of impact that would make him irreplaceable, especially after a poor 2011 season that saw him finish the year our 34th (out of 45) ranked outside linebacker. Caleb Hanie was also released, but we know what you’re thinking. Meh.
17.00: RELEASED! Are we a bit late to the party on this one? In any case the Redskins have officially confirmed the release of DeAngelo Hall. No shock there. A player who has never been far from a big day, the former Raider, Falcon and now Redskin, has rarely backed up his pay with his play on the field. This year he gave up 1,045 yards in coverage, the second most of all defensive players and being flagged for seven penalties. Still, would you bet against him getting another heap of cash?
16.45: SIGNING! Not a huge surprise here with Jeff McClane breaking the news that the Eagles have re-signed long snapper Jon Dobrenos and special teams ace (and occasional starting safety) Colt Anderson. Dobrenos got a four year deal while Anderson, who has ranked second overall in our special teams rankings the past two years, got a one year deal. He also contributed 298 snaps on defense, starting the final four games of the season though he didn’t do himself many favors missing seven tackles.
16.30: RUMOR! From the twitter account of Jason La Canfora, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to try and instigate a trade of their own, moving on former second round pick Arrelious Benn. He’s not a favorite of the new regime, seeing his 2012 snaps reduced to 79 after managing 510 the year before. After a promising rookie year, a torn ACL saw him come back and struggle to make much of an impact, to the point he foudn himself surplus to requirement in Tampa Bay.
16.25: RELEASED! It hasn’t always gone well for Beanie Wells in Arizona, and he’s just broke the news on twitter that he’s been let go by the Cardinals. It’s no real surprise, especially with Arizona rumored to be showing a big interest in Reggie Bush, and means Wells is destined to go down as one of those first round picks who just didn’t work out. He had 89 touches last year but behind a poor line couldn’t get much going, averaging only 1.4 yards per carry after contact and forcing just six missed tackles. That led to a league low 9.2 elusive rating. Still he should find work, with his showing in 2011 being a glimpse of the talent he possesses.
16.15: TRADE! And it’s a biggy. The Ravens and Anquan Boldin appeared heading for splitsville when it became obvious they were not going to have him back with his current contract, and he wasn’t going to take a salary cut. Now, according to Aaron Wilson the 49ers have responded to the Seahawks picking up Percy Harvin by trading their sixth round pick for the receiver who was arguably the difference in why they didn’t win the Super Bowl. Boldin played well enough in the regular season that he had our 12th highest grade of all receivers, but he really shone the spotlight on himself with his superb postseason. The 49ers have acquired a receiver who only dropped two of 67 catchable balls, seeing him finish the year with the leagues fifth best drop rate.
16.05: SIGNING! Good news for Washington fans who have gotten tired of the poor play of Tyler Polumbus. The team has at the very least introduced some competition at the right tackle spot by snapping up Tony Pashos. The former Cleveland Brown was actually our 8th ranked right tackle in 2011 but sat out all of 2012 recovering from a nasty ankle injury. He didn’t get a lot of movement in the run game, but his 22 quarterback disruptions allowed on 478 pass blocking snaps led to him having the seventh best pass blocking efficiency score of all offensive tackles.
16.00 Can you believe there are just 25 hours until free agency kicks off? Tomorrow we’ll be bringing you our unique accompanying reaction blog, but today be sure to check back every 15 minutes or so while we react to all the news that is developing with our own take on the situation.